Published November 20, 2014
A day before his 23rd birthday, Jimmy Clausen received a job promotion he seemed destined for since before he entered high school: NFL starting quarterback.
In a rapid ascension made possible by Matt Moore's six turnovers and Carolina's 0-2 start, Panthers coach John Fox announced on Monday the second-round pick from Notre Dame will start Sunday's game against Cincinnati.
"I've dreamt it for my whole life, to be a starting quarterback in the National Football League," said Clausen, who went unbeaten in high school and was one of the nation's top college recruits before playing in the Notre Dame spotlight. "It's real exciting, but at same time it's a job. You've got to go prepare."
Clausen, whose stunning fall to 48th overall amid concerns about his attitude was one of the top stories of April's draft, will take over the NFL's 28th-rated offense as Carolina seeks to avoid a second straight 0-3 start.
"We've just not been getting it done," said Fox, facing his own uncertainty in the final year of his contract. "Jimmy is a guy we think highly of. I thought he made the most of his opportunities Sunday. We'll see how it goes this week."
Clausen's promotion was accelerated by Moore's dismal start to the season, a steep fall from his strong 4-1 finish as a starter last season that helped pave the way for seven-year starter Jake Delhomme's release in March.
"I'm not happy with it. I understand, I accept it. But it's definitely not what you want to hear as a player," Moore said. "I'll be behind Jimmy as the weeks go on."
Moore threw three end zone interceptions and lost a fumble before leaving with a concussion in a Week 1 loss to the New York Giants. After being cleared to return Sunday, Moore threw an interception and lost another fumble before getting yanked early in the fourth quarter of the 20-7 loss to Tampa Bay.
Moore has led Carolina on only two touchdown drives, completed just 41 percent of his passes and has a passer rating of 41.8. It comes after the Panthers became the first team in at least 14 years to not score an offensive touchdown in the preseason.
It's nothing like the end of last season, when he threw eight touchdown passes and one interception. The undrafted, fourth-year QB from Oregon State entered this year 6-2 as a starter.
When asked what's gone wrong, Moore shook his head and replied, "I wish I knew." He rejected the argument his demotion was inevitable when Clausen fell to the Panthers in the draft.
"I don't think my thoughts were headed in that direction at all," Moore said. "I was confident, I still am. I know I can play. Unfortunately, the last two showings haven't been great. This is the option we have and they went with it."
Fox, who stubbornly stuck with Delhomme last season despite his 18 interceptions until he was sidelined with a broken finger, had a quick trigger this time.
Moore completed just 6 of 16 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown against the Buccaneers. It included overthrowing rookie David Gettis for what would've been a touchdown. Tight end Dante Rosario couldn't hang on to a slightly overthrown ball that likely also would've gone for a score.
"There were some plays out there that we left, no doubt," Fox said. "We've got to be able to make those in game situations. Talking to the team today, we've got to spark our offense, in particular the passing game. So we're going to start Jimmy Clausen this week. ... We'll let Matt sit back and watch."
Clausen is 7 of 15 for 59 yards and one interception in two brief stints this season. Clausen said he was "surprised" when Fox told him Monday morning he was taking over.
"It's exciting," Clausen said, "but at the same time it's time to get to work now."
Clausen was greeted with cheers when he replaced Moore early in the fourth quarter Sunday. He quickly matched Moore in completed passes on his first drive, but it ended with running back Jonathan Stewart being stopped short on fourth-and-goal from the 1. Clausen was intercepted by Aqib Talib later in the game on a deflected pass.
Clausen, groomed for this since he was setting high school records, is now charged with jump-starting a stagnant offense on a winless team with no experienced receiver after Steve Smith.
"Somehow or another we have to gain some confidence in the passing game," Fox said. "We'll see if this works."